I love baking. In my kitchen there are two separate cupboards dedicated to just baking stuff – one for my bakes (gluten, dairy and egg free) and one for the rest. Plus the countless baking ware, spread across the entire room. I have around 50 cookie cutters alone. 50. They are really cool, I swear. Who wouldn’t want a moose cookie? Come on!
But then I look at YouTube or Pinterest, or one of the countless cooking shows on TV and I realize how far removed from this perfect baker’s life I am. My baking is nothing like what I see on screen. So here is the first one of Things no one told us about – baking, coming to you from a really inexperienced baker who always tries more advanced stuff than she should.
Things get messy
Okay, they don’t have to. I watch my dad bake or cook and he is so great at keeping things neat – halfway through a bake his kitchen is cleaner than when he started. But chances are that you are more like me than my dad and then baking… Baking is an apocalypse.
Watching celebrity chefs with their fancy, clean kitchens makes it seem like not spilling things is the simplest thing in the world. And flour? Flour doesn’t get all over every single surface you have. No way. Flour sits still in a bowl and just waits till you crack an egg into it without dropping a single shell fragment in.
Sometimes I wish I had a self-cleaning kitchen. But I don’t – and therefore as soon as I start baking, I am covered in flour, the kettle is covered in chocolate and somehow the pieces of strawberries I just cut are already all over the floor.
Nothing is ever as perfect as we want it to be
If the recipe states it needs 100g of cocoa, it will be 100g of cocoa to make me happy. But it never is. It is 101g. Or 103g even. And straight, parallel lines, don’t even get me started on those. I think I have never cut two straight parallel lines in my life. Am I useless? No. Am I the worst baker in the world? I hope not. Well, I am pretty sure I am not. My cat is worse.
At some point in time all of us amateur bakers need to accept the fact that we just don’t bake enough to reach such perfection. Well, I should say ‘perfection’ as things are generally at most more or less perfect. Just because we cannot do something with a swift flick of our wrist doesn’t mean we cannot do it at all. We just need a bit more patience and understanding.
We are our own worst critics after all.
Time goes far too fast
Baking is the black hole of time. Don’t trust preparation times. It is always so much more. Okay, it may take me twenty minutes to mix all the ingredients, but before I do that I need to prepare the space, right? And then the sugar is missing, damn, need to go to the shops. And then the dough is not quite right, so time for panic mode – why didn’t the recipe work? By the time I get something out of the oven, I am already usually at least an hour behind schedule, and there is still decorating, and cleaning to do.
By the way – decorating takes hours if you don’t have enough practice (and I don’t). Don’t leave it to the last moment.
And there is always the problem for me of not reading the recipe properly. Did someone ever tell you to read the recipe in full before you start baking? Did you listen to this person? Please do. The countless times I have just glanced over a recipe to see if everything is doable and then found out it needs x hours in the fridge or a ridiculously long baking time… My biggest baking sin. Not paying enough attention before I start.
Crazy recipes = crazy ingredients and a crazy wallet
Because of my diet I do plenty of non-traditional baking and so I have learnt this lesson the hard way. See something particularly fancy or challenging? Be prepared as it won’t be available anywhere other than on the Internet. No popping to the corner shop to buy it just before you bake. Unusual ingredients take time to source.
They also come with a nice price tag. If you’re on a budget or don’t have much time, stick with the basics. You can have plenty of fun with those too.
Oven watching is actually quite addictive
Anyone who has seen The Great British Bake Off must have at some time wondered why everyone seems to be participating in this weird oven watching competition. Anyone who has never fallen into baking addiction that is.
I love oven watching. And you will to.
Be prepared to look like a maniac while you keep checking your rising cake and wondering if it rose half of or an entire milometer. And colour judging, oh, that is a great one too. Is my cake golden yet or just slightly tanned? One minute more? Two more minutes? No, two would be too much, wouldn’t it?
Baking is way more fun than eating
I very rarely eat what I bake – and one may point out that, indeed, I do bake lots of things I am forbidden to try. But even when I bake something for myself, I often leave it out for someone else to finish. I do love cakes. And cookies. And other sweet things. I just… fell off my sugar addiction I think.
That may not happen to you. But if you think you cannot enjoy baking because you don’t enjoy eating what you have baked – you’re wrong. There are so many other things about it. The act of creation. The smell it leaves around. How pretty it is. And, the most important one, how happy your bakes can make other people.
Trying new stuff out means tons of leftovers
Do you remember the budget thing? Yeah… Trying new recipes using ingredients you are not quite familiar with has another consequence – usually they are not packed in convenient two tablespoon packages. This means leftovers. And if you are a serial bakers, that means way too many leftovers not to call it wasting food.
So be careful. Make sure you use similar ingredients from time to time and rotate them or you’ll wake up one day with no storage left and cupboards full of hundreds of types of flour.
Pretty… is a loose term
I still remember the first proper swirl I did on a cupcake. I struggled with it for a bit, because for some reason I thought it is a good idea to ice a warm cake and then my nozzle was so tiny it just wouldn’t do it. The first cupcake with a proper, pretty swirl was a fantastic thing. A big thing. But if I looked at someone else’s cupcakes or even if I looked at it now, well, I don’t think I’d be that impressed.
Does it make it less pretty? Of course not! But in baking, like anywhere else, the beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Do not compare yourself to other bakers – the chances are that if you just started your bakes will look nothing like the original recipe’s photos. Just enjoy your own version.
Improvisation and repetition are the keys to success
There is only one way to learn something and that includes baking – repetition. Endless trials. Doing the same thing over and over again. Not only will it teach you how to improvise and help you develop a certain baking intuition, but it just makes you more skilful. There is no way around that. No shortcut.
You cannot become a Master Baker overnight, even with natural talent. Baking is easy and fun and definitely for everyone, but even in this domain miracles just don’t happen.
And you can do way more than you think you can!
But if there is one thing no one told me about baking that I really really learnt all by myself it is – I can do so much more than I think I can. Anyone can. Gaining confidence is a hard and long process, but just like a certain level of skill, it comes with time. The important bit is to keep challenging yourself with new things that you never thought possible.
I’ve done some crazy things while baking. I’ve done some crazy things while being a month into baking. I’ve done some crazy things from my second bake onwards (first was muffins – not too much crazy about this). Did looking at the recipe and thinking Oh, that looks difficult ever stop me? No.
And I am so glad it didn’t.
I remember when I first started baking regularly: two months in I had to pick something to bake for my boyfriend’s birthday. So I decided to make him a chocolate cake. In the shape of a dragon. A 3D dragon. Numerous people called me silly when I told them what my plan was, but I didn’t care. It did take me a good 9 hours, but guess what? I MADE A 3D CAKE (and it even looked a bit like a dragon). A 3D cake. And yet I still struggle with not overbaking brownies.
Find yourself a mountain and climb it. And then climb the next hundred ones.